An estimated 2,500 people from around the Northwest are expected to invade Columbia Park this weekend for the largest lacrosse tournament in the region.
Forty-eight teams from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana are scheduled to play in more than 100 games during the Three Rivers Shootout.
The two-day event for students from first-grade to high school includes an April 25 college matchup between Washington State University and Gonzaga University at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco.
The crowds are a sign of the rising popularity of lacrosse, one of the fastest growing sports in America, said Ron Havens, who coaches a Tri-City team and helped organize the tournament.
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Visit Tri-Cities estimates the visitors could bring in about $500,000 to the economy.
The tournament, which started with about a dozen teams, has grown every year, and officials will need to find more field space if they want to expand, Havens said.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments in the state and definitely the biggest tournament in our area,” Havens said. “We are full every year. The kids love playing at Columbia Park down by the river.”
The sport involves using a small rubber ball that’s passed among players wielding long-handled sticks with netting on one end for catching and passing.
The tournament culminates April 26 with championship games for the boys, something that is new this year after the addition of a playoff format following pool play, Havens said.
Because of the limited number of girls teams, there is no playoff for the girls. They will compete in a jamboree-style tournament.
All the boys’ divisions are full, though limited space exists for some girls teams.
Havens said the cost to put on the tournament is $15,000 to $20,000. It also serves as a fundraiser for Three Rivers Lacrosse, the local club team sponsoring the tournament.
Also new to this year’s tournament will be the the college game April 25 at Edgar Brown. Havens said it’s a great chance for people to get an introduction to the sport.
“Our goal is to pack the stadium with all the out-of-town players and families and as many locals as possible, to spread the word about lacrosse,” Havens said.
He said once people see the sport, which is more popular on the East Coast, in action they have a hard time not picking up a stick and starting to play.
“(Parents) end up signing their kids up. A lot of people don’t know what lacrosse is around here,” he said. “I wish they had this around when I was a kid.”
This weekend’s games will be played on six fields in the park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 25-26. The WSU and Gonzaga game starts at 7 p.m. April 25. Tickets are $5 at the stadium gate.
Go to www.3rlax.com for more information on the tournament.